Ant and Four 5 - For Your Courage
Ant woke up from a deep sleep. If he had dreamt, the dream faded before he could rein it in. He yawned widely, and though he didn't really want to, he opened his eyes. The space in front of him was empty, and when he touched it, it was cold. That was nothing new. When Four set his inner alarm clock, it was an actual alarm clock, and the ferry boy went from asleep to fully awake in an instant. It was a talent Ant both admired and envied.
The light coming in through the open door told him it was still early morning, and a look at his datapad confirmed it. Ant yawned again, and this time his jaw popped. He told himself to remind himself that midnight musings on the ramp was a bad idea. Especially when he needed to get up early the next morning. He sat up, stretched, an looked around. No sign of Four. Some mornings he would find his friend sitting at the end of the sofa, reading a book or playing quietly with some toy, and sometimes Four would be busy making breakfast. The door to the workshop was open, though, so Ant assumed that he was at work painting one of their latest creations.
Ant smiled. It felt almost too good to be true, the way their skills complimented one another. He didn't have much of an artist's eye, and Four had yet to master the building part of their toymaking. The other way around, though, they were able to create pretty much any toy idea they came up with.
"No, not like that, like this."
Four's voice finally reached in through the cobwebs in Ant's still tired mind. He shook his head, and wiggled his wolf ears. Sometimes, expecially when he woke up directly from deep sleep like today, his hearing was slow to catch up. From the way it sounded, Four was in full conversation. But with whom?
"You put that one there, then the cord goes over here. No, not like that. Here. Then Ant uses the soldering gun, 'cause last time I tried I set fire to the frame." Four giggled. "No, you can't eat the the microchip, they're not potato chips. Try again. No, don't throw it away!"
It sounded like a very odd conversation, and Ant wondered if he were still dreaming. But the sounds from the camping site waking up seemed real enough. He could hear kids yelling, adults calling out to them, the rustle of tents being pulled down, and even the sound of a motorcar starting up. But who was Four talking to?
"This is where the engine connects to the legs, to make them go up and down. Hey, give that back! We don't have many of them left."
Ant stood up, and scratched his back, just underneath the waistband of his shorts. Did he need to get properly dressed to greet this guest? Better safe than sorry; he slipped on a shirt and tip-toed over to peer into the workshop. At first he saw only Four, sitting on the floor with the parts for a mechanised horse laid out between his splayed legs. Then he spotted a tuft of reddish-brown fur perched on Four's sock-clad foot, leaning down to peer at the toy-to-be.
"That's right, those are the relays that keep the legs moving in synch. They go..." There was a soft chirp. "No, that's to make the tail wag. It's not for eating either."
"Who's your friend?"
"Morning, Ant. That's Ant, my friend I was telling you about. Hey, wait..." The chirp became a screech, and parts flew everywhere as the tiny furry something dashed madly around the room. Four hopped up and tried to calm it down. "Ant's not dangerous. Wait! Why are you...?"
Whatever it was, the creature was not listening. It climbed one of the shelves, and just avoided toppling over two half-finished race cars. A bunch of cardboard sheets weren't so lucky, and tumbled right in front of Four, who tripped and fell. The furry thing shrieked past Ant and made a beeline to the door, where it paused only to hiss and spit at him, before it was gone.
"Aww, did he leave?"
"If you mean the... whatever, then yeah. And I think he was pretty rude about it, too."
"That's 'cause you scared him. Poor William. I was teaching him how to make toys."
"Mhm. He's a squirrel. At least I think he is. He looks like one."
"What made you think he'd be able to make toys?"
"He seemed very interested in them." Four went to the door and peered out, then sighed. "Can't see him anywhere."
"Where did he come from?"
"Dunno. When I woke up he was sitting on the armrest, looking at me. Then he went into the workshop and started poking at the toys."
"Looking for food, I bet."
"You think? I should have asked if he was hungry." Four turned to Ant with a slight pout. "Do you think he thinks I was rude?"
"No. He was just happy that you were kind to him." Four's face lit up. "If he was a squirrel, he was probably curious. From what I've read, they like to check out everything."
"He tried to eat some of the toy parts," Four smiled. "I hope they're not too badly nibbled."
"It'll be all right. But no more sleeping with the door open, I think, at least not this close to a forest. Tomorrow he might bring all his mates."
"That'd be fun. A whole scurry of Williams."
"Why not?" Four returned to the workshop. "I'd better clean up."
"Thanks. Uhm... Ant? Ant, please don't get mad."
"I think William had an accident on the floor."
* * * * * *
The second day of the flea market started off busy. While the boys were still setting up their wares, a small crowd gathered. Ant recognised several people from the day before, when they had seemed interested but hadn't bought anything. Today, though, the money cards were out in full force. During the first half hour Ant sold six toys, and just after that the old lady who wanted the street organ monkey returned and bought it. For her grandson, she explained with a warm smile, because the boy loved anything to do with monkeys. Four gave her a balloon to pass along as well.
During the mid-morning, more and more children were coming to the market. It wasn't a school day, one boy explained while Four gave him a balloon and he eyed a race car, so most kids would sleep in. The best part of the market, he said, was the fireworks set off once the sun went down. Ant gave a demonstration of the toy car, but the boy decided to hang on to his money. At least for now.
Other kids were more curious about the toymakers than the toys. They wondered about Four's purple lock of hair, if he were really a proxy, where the real he was and why he couldn't be there in person. Four tried to explain that he was a ferry, but with limited success. The younger children didn't understand what he meant, while the older usually thought he was joking. Ant, in the meantime, lost count of how many times he had been asked if his tail were real. He posed for many photos, on his own, with kids, or with Four. Not many toys were sold, though. During his lunch break, Ant chatted with their book seller neighbour, while Four took a walk around the market.
"They seem to be interested," he mused. "They love the demonstrations and all, but they're not buying. Do you think we're too expensive?"
"Definitely not," the man said. "If anything, I think you could raise your prices an' sell even better."
"Listen, the kids are stingy 'cause they're saving their money for rides an' sweets over at the square." He moved a stack of books that was leaning dangerously out over the edge of his table. "And believe it or not, but the adults would like to pay more for hand-made things."
"That doesn't make sense."
"Maybe not, but that's the way people's minds work sometimes. If it's too cheap, they'll think it's cheaply made."
"Well..." Ant said, taking a sip of apple juice. "Our toys kind of are cheaply made. We buy electronic junk, basically, to build stuff with."
Ant had priced his toys at two unids a piece for the medium-sized ones, going up a bit for larger or more intricate ones. and down a bit for the clockwork toys. It seemed fair to him; a small profit even counting in the costs for renting the table, food and the camping site rates.
"There's a difference between cheaply produced and cheaply made, son. I've watched your demonstrations, an' you've got good wares. How many hours does it take you to make one toy?"
"About a day, I guess." Ant scratched his head. "Another day for Four to paint it, and one more for testing. Gotta make sure nothing comes loose if they're bumped around."
"How long for figuring out what to make. Ya know, designin'?"
"I don't really know."
"You could charge double easily. Even triple, with that amount of work going into it. Which would bring in collectors as well."
"The testing isn't really work, though," Ant grinned. "Just me and Four, sitting on the floor, playing. To me, the main thing is to give people something fun."
"Which is fine, I really get it. But I don't want you to be losin' money."
"Four read the book you gave him. He loved all the colourful fish."
"Books should be read, I think." Ant paused for a moment to make a sale and hand out a balloon. "And toys should be played with. Not sitting on a shelf somewhere, collecting collector dust."
"Fair point." The man smiled. "You're a good lad. You both are."
Just then, Four came running down the street with a bunch of children in tow. He was grinning widely, and his hair was mussed. Ant raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly. Wolf-speak for what's going on.
"I rode the merry-go-round," Four squeaked excitedly. "It was so much fun! Then I tried to win a teddy bear at ring toss, but I missed with every ring. And I ate a candied almond, it was very yummy. And I went on the roller coaster."
"He screamed really loud," a little girl giggled. "Every time the 'coaster dipped."
"I was cheering."
"Definitely screaming," a boy said. "Wanna see the video?"
"Jonas, you filmed me? Noo, don't play it!"
Ant laughed as he watched a short video clip of a quite tame-looking roller coaster with a train of carts made to look like a caterpillar. He could clearly see a mop of golden hair swish past, followed by a shrill scream. Definitely not cheering. Four pouted, but he still handed out balloons to his new-found friends. Ant tried his best to remember names, but there were about a dozen children in Four's posse, and he soon lost track. He did get his own datapad out, and the kids sent him the pictures they had taken of Four and themselves, eating sweets and riding a classic-styled merry-go-round, filled with all sorts of vehicles and animals for the children to ride.
"See? I found a ferry." Four's pout was gone as he pointed to a picture where he was sitting in a blue-and white tugboat, smiling happily. "It went up and down as if we were at sea. Isn't that cool?"
"It totally is."
"Maybe when we finish up here, you and I can go on the Ferris Wheel?"
"Sure, if they're still open." Four's entourage nodded enthusiastically. "We've got a few more hours here, then we'll take a look."
"See you guys later!" Four waved at his friends, who took off running. "I spent some of my money, you know, from my bowl. That's okay, isn't it?"
"It's yours, of course it is." Ant packed up the last of the race cars in its cardboard box and handed change to a woman, while Four gave her beaming boy a balloon. "And we need to figure out the best way to split our earnings. Maybe get you your own money card."
"What if go crazy and spend it all?"
"Then you'll be broke."
* * * * * *
During the afternoon, Ant sold most of his stock. He kept thinking about what the book seller had said about raising their prices, but in the end he decided against it. He wanted to make toys for kids to play with, simple as that. Every time he saw a happy smile when he handed over a box and Four gave out a balloon, it made his tail wag.
When it was time to clean up, only a couple of boxes were left. And, of course, Li'l Ant the clockwork wolf and Cyder the dragon, neither of whom was for sale. Since they wouldn't need the hand cart, Four took it back while Ant wiped the table and swept the sidewalk. He was just about done when a group of older kids walked up to him. He wasn't very good at assessing the age of humans, but he guessed them to be in their late teens. The largest of them, a blonde-haired boy with wispy chin fur, put his foot just where Ant was about to sweep. There was something about this bunch that raised his hackles, and when he spoke he didn't even try to keep annoyance out of his voice.
"We're just closing up. But if you really want a toy there are a few left."
"Keep your toys," the large boy said with a sneer. "We're here for the freak show."
"Oh. Well, the main stage is that way." Ant pointed in the direction of the square. "When are you performing?"
"What are you talkin' about? We're not performing."
"He means you're the freak show," a girl laughed. "You've been had, Sia."
"Listen," the boy called Sia growled as he took a step closer to Ant, who gripped his broom more firmly. "I don't know what the hell you are, but you're not welcome here. We don't need strange folks stirrin' up trouble."
"I'm not stirring up anything," Ant replied coldly. He tapped the boy's shoe with the broom. "I'm not even sweeping up right now, 'cause you're in the way."
"Here's the robot," another boy said, stepping aside to let a reluctant Four by. "A robot boy and a... a what? Puppy dog?"
"Nice one, Yance," the girl said, and they slapped hands. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Selling toys. Isn't that obvious? Here, have a balloon."
Taken aback, the girl accepted the yellow balloon with Four's A&F logo on it. She stared at it for a second or two, before letting it go, wiping her hand against her trousers as if the string had been dirty. Four watched it disappear into the sky, but didn't say anything. Ant turned to Sia.
"That was the last one. Sorry, but you'll have to do without."
"I don't care about your stupid balloons." He poked Ant in the chest. "All I want is you, gone."
"Why do you care if we're here or not?" Ant could feel a slight tug on his sleeve, but chose to ignore it. "What's it to you? If you can't bear to look at me, just go someplace else."
"It's not about how you look, puppy dog," the boy called Yance said. "You don't fit in here. We don't want you or your robot in our town."
"Is it your town, now?" The new voice was a deep female one, and Ant looked up from his lock-stare with Sia to see a middle-aged woman with her arms crossed in front of her. "Last time I checked, you all lived in Weston. So what gives you the right to harass people in Wishing Well?"
"Stay out of this," Sia spat. "It's none of your business!"
"I'll make it my business if you embarrass my town. Now get out of here before I call the police."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Try me, Sia. Think daddy would like to come and get you out of jail again?"
To Ant's surprise, the gang backed down. They moved away slowly, but not without a fair deal of glaring and rude hand gestures. He sneered at Sia, their gazes locked, then gave him a friendly wave.
"I look forward to your show. Bet you'll be freak of the year."
After all the tension and raised voices, the street sounded almost quiet all of a sudden. The woman who had spoken up came over to them, but Ant's attention was drawn by another timid tug on his sleeve. Four looked distressed, a far cry from the smiling, happy boy who had come back from his first fairground visit a couple of hours earlier. Ant wrapped an arm around his friend's shoulder and drew him in for a quick hug.
"They're just dumb bullies. Nothing to worry about."
"I wish you hadn't egged them on like that."
"They were being jerks, I couldn't just take it."
"It's good of you to stand up against them." The woman reached out, and Ant shook her hand.
"My name is Anita, I own a general store down the street."
"I'm Ant. This is Four." She shook hands with the ferry boy, and they exchanged smiles. "We're here for the flea market, to sell..."
"I know who you are. I've heard a lot about you over the last couple of days."
"Good things, I hope?"
"Very. I would have visited you myself, but I've been busy running this market, and the fair as well." She turned to the book seller. "Have you been keeping an eye out for them, Hal?"
"No need," the book seller, Hal, answered. "It's been all peace and quiet until our favourite neighbours drifted by."
"Sia and his gang come from a nearby town," Anita explained to Ant and Four. "They like to stir up trouble from time to time. For some reason they singled you out."
"Can't imagine why," Ant smirked. "It's as if they didn't like the look of me."
"Don't take it personal. Sia's father is the mayor of Weston, and his uncle is the chief of police there. So they're maybe not as reined-in as they ought to be."
"They were scary," Four pouted. "Five of them, and a lot bigger than us."
"Are they gonna be a major problem?" Ant asked. "Should we get out of here?"
"Now that we know they're here, it'll be fine. We have police officers keeping an eye on things, I'll tell them to be on the lookout for trouble."
"I'm a member of the town council," Anita said. "The mayor is not only my boss, but my wife as well. Please don't let this spoil your evening, or your opinion of Wishing Well."
"We won't, right?" Ant turned to Four, who shook his head. "We've really enjoyed our stay here."
"I liked the fishing," Four said. "And I liked William."
"A squirrel who paid us a visit this morning."
"Okay." She smiled. "Do you have time for a chat? There's something I'd like to ask you."
"Is it about toys?" Ant asked, and Anita nodded. He held up the broom. "Just a minute."
* * * * * *
Hal, the book seller, agreed to keep an eye on their things, while Ant and Four followed Anita down the street to a small café. She ordered coffee and cake, while the boys both chose apple juice. After some more small talk about the town and about the market and the fair, Ant's ears perked when Anita mentioned her store.
"I could make room for you, if you wanted. The flea market's only once a month, but you could have a permanent display with me."
"Why?" Ant asked. "I mean, you barely know us."
"I talk to people all the time, and your names have come up a lot the last couple of days. People like your goods."
"It's a lot of fun making them," Four said, then sipped his juice. "Ant does the constructing bit and I do the painting."
"I'm not sure if we can keep up a steady supply, though," Ant chimed in. "It's kind of touch and go, we don't have a factory line or anything."
"That's fine." Anita took a bite from her cake, and Ant wished he'd ordered a piece as well. It looked tasty. "I do the same for a couple of local artists, where they can display and sell paintings and sculptures. It's not like a huge market deal. Just set up what you have and replenish when you can."
"We've planned to do more travelling."
"Then stop by whenever you're in the sector." She smiled. "If the shelves run empty, that only means people will be looking forward to your next visit."
"That sounds good," Four said. He turned to Ant. "I could make a sign for us, maybe a better logo."
"I like the A&F one."
"Me, too. But I bet I could make it look even better with a background, and maybe a... a painting of a toy or something."
"Do you do paintings as well, Four?"
"Not yet, ma'am, but I've been thinking about it. Not like, copying stuff, but my own ideas."
"When you do, we might display them as well."
"If they're good enough." Four looked down at the table, and Ant knew he would have blushed if he could. "What do you think, Ant?"
"I think that we should get you some canvases and new brushes. We need to make a supply run for more toy stuff, anyway. As for finished toys, we've got a few we could set up, maybe a dozen if you give us a couple of days."
"No hurry," Anita said. "Take you time and make them good. Whenever you're ready, the offer still stands."
"Sounds like a plan." They all shook hands. "So, Four, wanna show me that Ferris Wheel now?"
* * * * * *
Ant hadn't seen much of the fair, since he had been too busy at their table selling toys, and he was surprised at how noisy it was. There were rides set up all over the square, and in between them were booths selling treats or offering games and lotteries. Four dragged him from place to place, chattering up a storm, and it was all he could do to take any of it in.
"...an' here's the ring toss game I told you about. You have to make the ring go around the neck of the bottles, but it's really difficult and... Ant? Ant, are you listening?"
"You looked zoned out. Wanna try? I bet you're good at it."
Ant handed over a coin to the boy running the game, and got three small plastic rings in return. To his eye, they looked barely wide enough to go around the bottle necks even if you dropped them from an inch. To throw them at an angle would be nigh impossible. Still, he tried his best. The first ring landed between two bottles. The second touched one of the necks, at least. He aimed the third carefully, at one bottle that was chipped. Maybe he could catch the ring on the damaged area. It flew, spinning in the air, and bounced off. Next to Ant, Four groaned, but when their eyes met they both grinned.
"Nice try. You got way closer than I did."
"Try again, sir?"
"Maybe later," Ant said, and let himself get dragged towards a lottery wheel. "Hey, Four, maybe we should try the Ferris thing before we try to win stuff."
The Ferris Wheel turned out to be a huge thing, towering over the buildings surrounding the square. They waited in line for their turn, then climbed into a sofa-like pod with a safety bar to hold them down. The wheel spun a little bit at a time, and soon they could see most of Wishing Well as they rose up above it. Four grabbed Ant's hand and squeezed it, while he pointed out things. Ant found that he wasn't really fond of being this high up. For someone who had spent most of his life inside a dome, all this open air was unnerving. Still, he tried to enjoy himself as best he could, and he found that watching thing in the distance felt better than looking straight down.
Four was all smiles once they were back on the ground, while Ant tried to keep his knees from trembling. They tried a couple more rides, including the merry-go-round where they both sat on horses as they went round and round. This was more to Ant's liking. Safe and slow and close to the ground. A couple of Four's new-found friends turned up as they disembarked, and let Ant have the pictures they had taken of the two of them. As thanks, he treated them all to cotton candy, which Four loved but which he himself found too sweet and too sticky. It stuck in his whiskers and made his nose twitch, much to the amusement of the kids.
Back at the lottery wheel, they tried betting on numbers a couple of times until Four got lucky and won a little plastic car. His face lit up with a happy grin, and he flung his arms around Ant's neck and hugged him fiercely. Ant's speed and reflexes made him beat a game where he used a padded stick to poke at creatures popping up from holes, and he won a tiny teddy bear.
By the time it was getting dark, Ant was well and truly tired. He'd had a lot of fun, but he found that he enjoyed watching Four's happiness even more. The ferry boy loved everything about the fair, and his joyful smiles made Ant's chest warm. He took a picture of Four, smile sticky with cotton candy, as he showed his friends the toys they had won. Then he typed in a message on the datapad and sent the picture to Magnus Larsen, the man who had helped Four get his body.
"Four enjoying the fair. He's such a happy boy you wouldn't believe it. Thanks again for making this happen."
The reply came a couple of minutes later.
"That's good to know. I'm happy for you, and never been so glad to be proven wrong."
Ant smiled. Just then, the fireworks started, and everyone stopped to watch the colourful displays against the darkening sky. The cracks and bangs were a bit too loud for Ant's ears, but he did enjoy the way the lights flew this way and that. He found himself wondering if he could construct something like that, but decided against it. If a toy didn't work, it didn't work. If a firework failed, things could get messy. He glanced down at Four, and found his friend bouncing and clapping at every new burst.
The fair around them began to wind down after the fireworks. The festivities would continue, but with more adult themes. music bands were setting up on stages while the rides and the games wound down, and space was cleared for dancing. The children reluctantly headed for home, and so did Ant and Four. They stopped at Hal's table to pick up their unsold toys, then began walking towards the camping sire.
* * * * * *
Ant yawned when they reached the end of the last street. The edge of Wishing Well. There was still a couple of miles to go until they reached the camping site, but the lack of street lights didn't bother either of them. Four could amp up the light sensitivity in his camera eyes, and Ant had honed his night vision during all those months he spent living in tunnels underneath the mining town.
He was thinking about bed and sleep, and about the shower he'd need first. As always, Four would ask if they could shower together, and Ant would tell him no. Then Four would say he couldn't work out the taps, and Ant would pretend to give in under protest. It didn't bother him to shower with his ferry friend. Not anymore. He trusted Four completely, and that seemed to clear away all shyness about showing his naked body. Four had none of that. None of the inhibitions that came from growing up in a close-knit society where there was no way to escape the fact that he was smaller and physically weaker than everybody else. Being so lost in thoughts made him miss the deeper shadows underneath a linden tree.
Four only had time to gasp out a warning, before pain exploded on the side of Ant's face.
* * * * * *
Dazed, Ant missed a step and stumbled, almost falling to his knees. From somewhere far outside the deafening noise inside his head, he heard angry voices. And one clear one, which sounded frightened. Four. Were they hurting Four? Ant recognised Sia's snarls, as well as one of the girls who had been with him. He stood to his feet and turned around. There they were, blocking their way.
"I told you, you ain't welcome here."
"Not up to you," Ant growled, struggling against dizziness. "Get lost! And don't you dare touch Four!"
"Afraid we're gonna break your little doll?"
"Get lost," Ant told Sia again, ignoring the other boy. If there were one thing he knew about being accosted by bullies, it was to identify and target the leader. "We've done nothing to you, and we're about to leave, anyway."
"Running away," a girl laughed, "tail between your legs."
"Wishing Well's a dump of a town," Sia said in a low voice. "But it don't need fresh trash."
"Then get back to your own place, Compost Heap or whatever you call it." Ant knew it wasn't a good idea to antagonise Sia, but he really couldn't help himself. "You call me trash, but if I beat you up I'd get arrested for littering."
A stream of invectives were hurled his way, but Ant let it run off him. Insults were not the danger here. He saw Sia's muscles tense, and knew what was coming. He stepped aside, dropping the toys he was holding as he evaded the blow. However, he had underestimated the followers. Rather than stand back and cheer on his leader, one of the boys intercepted Ant's move, and grabbed his arms. Sia spun around, and this time his blow landed clean. Ant tasted blood, and his head rang. Next came a punch in the guts, which made him double over and gasp for air. The second boy pushed him from behind, and he went down. He tried to move, but Sia's boot struck him on the side of the head.
Stars. Strange... Usually they were up in the sky, why were they dancing in front of his face. He fought against an urge to be sick, while the world and the stars spun around him. Then he heard Four scream. It was not a scream born of fear or pain, but of anger.
And something answered.
A roar filled the air around them, a boyish voice magnified many times over. Blinding light cut through the spinning stars, and Ant rolled to his side to see what was happening. Bright spotlights shone on both him and the bullies, and he recognised the engine hum of Four's ferry self. There was a metallic whirr, too, which must be the ramp opening and closing.
"Stop it!" Four screamed, loud enough to make Ant's teeth rattle. "Don't touch him ever again!"
"What the hell..." Sia's voice sounded weak, feeble by comparison. "I told you to keep an eye on the robot."
"I'm not just a robot!" Four went on. "I'm a spacecraft, and I'm armed. And I'm aiming my laser guns at you all!"
Ant watched as bright red dots appeared on the teenagers' chests, following them perfectly when they tried to move away. One of the boys screamed, and someone started crying.
"Go away and leave us alone! You have ten seconds!"
Four began booming out a countdown, and Sia turned and ran. The others followed, and seconds later a motorcar started up and drove away, still trailed by angry red dots. When the engine noise receded, the ferry landed. It was suddenly eerily quiet. Ant tried to sit up, but the bright light hurt his eyes, and he couldn't find his bearings. Then small hands touched him, shaking him gently.
"Ant, Ant, Ant, please be okay. Ant?"
"I'm here," he grunted, grabbing one of Four's hands. "Could you turn down the light, please?"
Immediately, the spotlights dimmed, but there was still enough light for Ant to see the tear-streaked face in front of him. Four threw off his shirt and touched it to Ant's head, making him hiss with pain. When it came away, there was blood on it. Plenty of blood.
"Are you okay?" he groaned out. "Did they hurt you?"
"They just pushed me around a little bit." Four's voice was quavering. "But Ant, they really hurt you. You're bleeding."
"How'd you do all that stuff? The voice and the lasers an' all. I didn't know you had lasers."
"They're for landings." Four was crying now. "Distance measuring. They're no good for shooting, it was just a bluff."
"The voice was my loudspeakers set to max. I think I blew one out. But Ant, we need to get an ambulance, right now!"
"Four, I'll be fine. Promise."
"I've been beat up before, much worse than that pathetic windbag could ever manage. Nothin' broken, no teeth fell out."
"They hit you pretty hard in the head."
"That's the sturdiest part of my body." Ant grinned, even though a split lip told him not to. "Bone through and through."
"I'm sorry. Come here."
Four fell into his arms, and Ant hugged him for a long time, while the boy cried. Eventually, he managed to get to his feet, and they picked up their things before they hobbled up the ramp, which closed immediately. Ant could hear the engines start, and guessed that Four was driving them back to the site. He didn't ask, though, and Four was unusually silent. They undressed, and Four led the way into the bathroom. No problems with the taps this time, Ant noticed with a detached smirk. He was really tired, and wanted nothing more than to sleep the pain off. Grabbing a bar of soap, Four started washing him, and Ant allowed himself to get pampered. Once clean and dry, they didn't even bother with underpants as they fell onto the sofa. Ant resisted sleep, though, because he sensed that Four needed to talk.
"I... I got really scared tonight."
"They were just idiots."
"But they were bigger than us, and they could have really hurt you."
"I think you were brave."
"Stop it, I was more scared than poor William when he first saw you."
"But you didn't run, you fought back."
"No, I didn't, Ant. There was no way I could have hurt them, even if I'd wanted to."
"Maybe we need real laser guns."
"All I could do was fib. We were lucky it worked."
"And how! I bet they all wet themselves."
"But what if they call the police? And tell them that a crazy murder robot was threatening them."
"Well, we told Anita we were going for a supply run. Maybe we shoud start it early. Just to be safe."
"Do you think we could be in trouble?"
"I don't know." Ant sat up, and put an arm around Four. "I've been thinking a bit lately, and I'm kinda surprised that we haven't already been in trouble."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, technically I stole you. I mean, you made the decision, but I kinda made you make it."
"I don't feel stolen."
"I know, but the police might think so if they start looking into us. I think we need a new ship name."
"Personnel Transportation Vehicle Number Four sounds a bit... I don't know... not you. Not anymore. You're much more than you were when we first met."
"Thanks to you." Four leaned his head against Ant's shoulder, and patted his leg. "Friend."
"Friend. So, what do you think?"
"Dunno. I can't really think of anything. I mean, Four is who I am."
"I don't mean that you, as in the person you, need a new name. I like Four, it suits you. Just an official name for ferry you."
"I have an idea, if you trust me."
"Then let's go."
Ant stood up and walked into the workshop, where he started rummaging through the paint jars. He picked one out, and selected a medium-sized brush. Four stood in the door and watched him, a puzzled expression on his face. Ant smiled, and took his hand.
"Open the door and lower the ramp, please."
"Okay, but... are we really going outside dressed like this? Or rather, undressed like this?"
"Just for a moment. And I bet everybody's asleep by now."
"I made a lot of noise."
"It'll be fine. If someone sees us, I'll hide behind you."
"But what about me?"
"You can hide behind me. It'll work out."
"No it won't!" They walked down the ramp, then around to the front of the ferry. "You're crazy."
Ant opened the paint jar and dipped the brush. He was nowhere near as precise as Four when it came to painting, but he did his best to text one word on the hull. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Four mouth along, and he saw a glimmer of something wet on his friend's cheek. When he was done, he stood back and smiled. It looked pretty good, even though he said so himself.
"What do you think?"
"I love it." Four hugged him tightly, and he almost dropped the paint jar. "It's so great."
"This paint will survive in space, at least until we can find something sturdier. And maybe you can re-paint it if you want it to look neater."
"Nope. This is exactly how I want it to look. Thank you, Ant."
"It suits you. For your courage."
Four stood up on his toes and kissed Ant's cheek, then with on arm still around one another, they went up the ramp and closed it. Ant got yet another kiss, this time on the lips, then Four spun around, smiling happily.
"I feel like a whole new me."
"Are we ready to go?"
"Do we have enough food and stuff?"
"At least until we can make our next stop."
"Then let's go!"
The engines started up, and Ant could feel the ferry swerve as it gained altitude. The viewscreen came on, and showed a chart over the nearest systems. Four picked one, then radioed the nearest airspace control.
"This is the Fourtitude, leaving Layan space."